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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- 1 have no desire to delay the passage of this Bill, but I wish to refer briefly to the question of Government control. I am supporting the Bill with a good deal of misgiving, but I have no intention of supporting the amendment for reasons I shall give later. For some time I have been extremely desirous of getting away from Avar conditions, and as conditions are now becoming normal, measures such as this should not be necessary. Probably there should be some Government supervision in matters of this kind, but there appears to be a tendency on the part of certain Ministers to try to retain as long as possible some of those powers which were exercised under the War Precautions Act. It is generally recognized that the sooner we revert to normal conditions the better it will be, not only for the primary producers, but for the community generally. I intend to throw down the gauntlet to the Government in connexion with propositions of this character, because there has been too much Government interference, with resultant heavy losses to the producers. I want them to understand that, unless definite requests are made by the producers for legislation of this character, they are acting in a manner that will place them in difficulties and jeopardize their position as occupants of the Treasury bench. My objection to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) is that, while he seeks to give the producers an open market for export produce, his party has never !been inclined to do so in connexion with produce sold within the Commonwealth. I think it is generally admitted that the work of a dairy farmer is extremely arduous, as many of them have to work from daylight until dark for seven days a week. During a recent visit to the Colac district I was informed by dairy farmers that the cost of fodder and other requirements, as well as the increased cost of labour, was such that butter at the present price was not so profitable to handle ns when it was ls. 2d. and ls. 3d. a lb. We all know that there has been a decrease in our dairy herds, and that the butter production has fallen off considerably. During the last few years there has been a change in connexion with the butter industry, and in such districts as Warrnambool very little butter is now being manufactured. In some of our principal dairying districts the milk is being sold to Nestle's factory for condensing and other purposes. When at Colac recently, I noticed that large quantities of milk were coming to the factories, and, instead of the skimmed milk being taken away for pig3, a large quantity was being used in making casein, and in the 'manufacture of Lactogen and other milk foods. Unless we are prepared to pay a fairly high price for butter, it is quite possible that those now engaged in the industrywill go out of it. Not one member opposite would answer the question, " Should the producer .be given an open and free market in Australia?"' According to the Queensland newspapers, the price fixed for butter on 12th August last by the Government of that State was £228 a ton, although on that date £240 a ton was being given for it in New South Wales and Victoria. In other words, the Queensland producers were getting £12 per ton less for their butter than those of the other States.

Mr Ryan - Do you say that that is the case now ?

Mr GREGORY - The price of butter has been increased in Queensland during the past few days to £238 pelton when put up in 56-lb. cases, and to £240 a ton when put up in 28-lb. cases. The view I hold is that the producer, - whether of meat, wool, hides, butter, or any other produce - should obtain on the home market the world's parity for his produce. He is the man who takes all the_ risk, and those who desire the prosperity of the country will insist that he gets the world's parity by way of reward. Honorable members opposite give us no assurance that with a clear and open export market the producer would be able to obtain the world's parity for his butter here. We know that their intention will be to fix the price of butter locally. For that reason a representative like myself could not hand over the control of this country's affairs to a party which would fix prices locally. When we put through a Bill providing for the Butter Pool, I was satisfied that the views of the> producers had been fully represented, and that it was not merely a measure for giving Ministerial control. I would always -"refer to be without Ministerial interference; but it is necessary in this case to get into touch with the

Imperial Government. I cannot understand why the High Commissioner in London, whose office costs us' over £60,000 a year, cannot supply us with good and solid information regarding markets .and other trade matters. If the New York office that it is proposed to open will do no better for us, we had better save our money by not opening it. A big change should be made in the London office. The Minister told us that he had cabled to London for certain information, and had received no reply. We should insist on getting the information that we need. We pay so* much for the upkeep of the High Commissioner's Office that we should expect from that office results which would assist in the building up of our industries.

Mr Mahony - Will you move an amendment to bring that about?

Mr GREGORY - When we come to the Estimates, I am prepared to take action.

Mr Mahony - Any other time!

Mr GREGORY - I like to deal with things on the proper occasion. Had the honorable member a greater knowledge of the proper working of Parliament, he would realize that the time for discussing this matter is when the Estimates are before us. I do not know why the " said agreement," which is referred to in the Bill, has not been added to it as a schedule. The butter producers desired an open market at Home, and sent representatives to England with the instruction to do the best they could to get it. Having failed, these representatives appear to have done the next best thing, with a view to obtaining a fair price for the butter exported. My desire is to keep our industry unhampered by Ministerial control. I have been told by persons connected with the dairying industry that when an endeavour was being made to arrange a price in connexion with a previous contract with the British Government, the butter producers of Victoria had their agent at Home, who was in consultation there with our Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). The latter cabled to Australia asking for a free hand, and saying that without it he could not carry on the negotiations. He got a free hand, and, according to what I have been told - and I have reason to believe that it is true - he fixed a price considerably lower than that which was given for butter from other countries. I cannot conceive that the Imperial Government would wish to give us worse terms than other countries; and after the great sacrifices we have made, we should insist upon receiving prices as good as, if not better than, those paid for commodities from other countries. But we cannot afford to lose the British market, to which the greater part of our butter has been sent for more than a decade, and the butter producers having said that they are content with the price that has been agreed upon, we should support the measure which sanctions their agreement. As I have said, I do not desire Government interference in the fixing of prices, or in the making of contracts for the sale of our commodities abroad. 1S0 far as possible, business men should be allowed to manage their own affairs. Ministers have quite enough to do in carrying on the ordinary administration of their 'Departments, and, in my opinion, should, as much as possible, keep their fingers off other people's business.

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